Minotauros dismantle Bismarck, 5-1, for Game 1 win

Alex Eisen/MDN Minotauros forward David Raisanen (right) gets a hug from Wilmer Skoog (20) after scoring Minot's third goal Friday evening against the Bismarck Bobcats at Maysa Arena in Game 1 of the first round series.

With a buzzing home playoff crowd behind them at Maysa Arena, the Minot Minotauros didn’t leave anything to chance Friday evening.

The Central Division No. 2-seeded Minotauros opened the 2019 NAHL Robertson Cup playoffs with a 5-1 statement win over a division rival, the No. 3-seeded Bismarck Bobcats.

One win down, two to go in the best-of-five first round series.

“The game was a lot closer than the score indicated,” Minotauros head coach Marty Murray said. “(Goaltender Nicholas Grabko) made some big saves there in the second period, which changed the dynamic of the game. That was kind of the turning point.”

The Minotauros, showing no jitters to start the postseason, needed just a minute and 42 seconds to strike first.

Alex Eisen/MDN Minotauros forward Wilmer Skoog (right) skates up the ice Friday evening against the Bismarck Bobcats.

Defenseman Brennan Couet, who only scored two goals in 42 games during the regular season, netted Minot’s opening goal with Lincoln Erne picking up the assist.

The lead lasted four minutes. A bouncing puck, directed on goal by Blaine Warnert, eluded Grabko to even the score at 1-1.

“It’s always nice to get the first goal,” Murray said. “But, it’s playoff hockey and they come back and tie it up. It’s a battle through and through. So, you try not to read too much into the first goal of the game.”

Circling behind the net with six minutes left in the first period, Andrew Kangas found a slight opening to restore Minot’s lead heading into the first intermission.

Bismarck outshot Minot in the second period, 18-13, but the Minotauros pulled away with two more goals.

Minot’s leading scorer in the regular season, David Raisanen, finished a backdoor pass from Wilmer Skoog to increase the lead to 3-1.

“(Raisanen) is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds with soft hands,” Murray said. “His office is in front of the net and when he gets to those areas, he is hard to move with his reach and size. He has done a great job of getting to those areas this year.”

Then, to compound matters for Bismarck, a defensive breakdown by the Bobcats left Matthew Gellerman all alone in the slot. He wasn’t missing from point-blank range.

That marked the end of John Robert’s night, as the Bismarck goaltender was pulled in favor of backup Atticus Kelly.

In the crease at the other end, Grabko was locked in and moving side-to-side to stop everything sent his way.

Grabko made 35 saves to secure a 5-1 win, as Raisanen added an empty-net goal with 52.6 seconds remaining.

“First playoff game (for Grabko) and he played really well,” Murray said. “He kind of weathered the storm for us because I don’t think we were sharp enough in the second (period) and he made some big saves to give us a lift going into the third.”

The Minotauros attempt to take a commanding 2-0 series lead at 7:35 p.m. tonight at Maysa Arena.

“We put this (win) in the bank, but I think we can be better,” Murray said. “I’m sure Bismarck will be pushing (in Game 2), so we have to reset and recharge the batteries. It’s going to be a quick turnaround and we have to be ready to go.”

Alex Eisen covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.